2017

Album Review: The Masterful Irish Craft of Usher’s Island

Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island (Vertical Records, 2017)

Usher’s Island is a new superband that brings together some of the greatest contemporary Irish folk music musicians. Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle have played with the most iconic Irish and Irish American bands: Planxty, Bothy Band, Lunasa and Solas.

The majority of the compositions on Usher’s Island are traditional songs and tunes rearranged by the band, along with a handful of originals by Usher’s Island members.

The way the album was made connects with Irish tradition as well. Mike McGoldrick bought a cottage in County Galway, western Ireland that had been used by musicians in the past to hold sessions. McGoldrick turned it into a recording studio for three days.

Throughout Usher’s Island the listener is treated to fascinating storytelling songs and delightful ensemble pieces with superb instrumental interaction and superb solos weaved in. Irish music at its best.

Personnel: Andy Irvine on vocals, mandola and harmonica; Dónal Lunny on vocals, bouzouki, baritone bouzouki, bodhran and keyboards; Paddy Glackin on fiddle; Mike McGoldrick on wooden flute, low whistle and uileann pipes; and John Doyle on guitar, bouzouki and vocals.

Usher’s Island features masterfully-crafted Irish music with dazzling acoustic interplay and exceptionally expressive vocals.

Buy Usher’s Island in Europe

Buy Usher’s Island in the rest of the world


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Irish Examiner Review – Andy Irvine at Cork Folk Festival 2017

Crowd soaks up sweet sounds at Cork Folk Festival opening night

 

THE two Irelands met a few hundred yards from each other near the South Main Street, Cork last night, where a 1,000-year-old Viking weaver’s sword was recently discovered by archaeologists at the historic site of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery.

But they might well have been thousands of miles apart.

The first gig of Féile Chorcaí saw the high king and high queens of Irish folk music, Andy Irvine, and Tríona and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill take to the stage at Triskel Christchurch for a classic opening to the 38th Cork Folk Festival.

The width of a street away, an altogether different cultural and musical experience was in full flow outside two of the city’s nightclubs. What a contrast. One venue oozing history, the other oozing histrionics. But life goes on, and so did the music.

Sitting in the balcony of a Triskel venue, also steeped in history, directly under a memorial to one Major Arthur Gibbins, Kings Dragoon Guards, of Glenburn Glanmire, who died on the march from Meerut to Agra in India on October 27, 1881, age 35, we were insulated from the outside world, transported away from Trump, Rocket Man, Syria, threatened strikes and a weary world as the Ní Dhomhnaill sisters took us on an altogether harmonious journey to Gaoth Domhair, Tory Island… and Cahersiveen for a beautiful rendition of a song their mother, from Doneraile, loved dearly, (The Boys of) Barr Na Sráide.

This was an opening act that filled you with the final rays of autumn warmth, enough to keep you ticking over ’til the approach of the tinsel and toasts of Christmas, with ‘The False Fly’ and my favourite, ‘Do You Love and Apple’, among the many songs to warm the cockles and muscles of the heart.

The old pews and creaking wooden floorboards were soaking up the sweet sounds. And so were we.

Then up stepped Andy Irvine: “It’s lovely to be here, lovely to be anywhere, said the 75-year-old as he launched into what appear like mini novels, ‘When The Boys Are On Parade’, ‘The Three Huntsmen’, ‘You Rambling Boys of Pleasure’, ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, ‘Prince Among Men’ and ‘Houdini’, with guitar and bouzouki finger work that would still give anyone a run for their money.

Then came ‘that’ special song he wrote while in a hospital bed, following his near drowning accident in Australia. “Your life flashes before you. I was amazed how much I had forgotten… and out of that brilliant mind came ‘My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland (in the sweet County Clare). It brought tears to one American visitor’s eyes, it’s not hard to see why.

“The Close Shave’, drew howls of laughter for the lyrics about a gold digger in Down Under who gets off with woman, only to wake up the next morning to find all his gold gone. “Why did she need the wig? Why did she need to shave? It’s then the truth it struck me, in a fit of blinding rage. Her hair as yellow as the gold she stole from me and you’.

Then it was back to Cork to honour a woman of altogether different morals. “I can’t come here without singing this song”, he told us … and out came The Spirit of Mary Jones, about the Leeside-born woman who organised American union workers.

Irvine was on fire as the night drew to a close with The Blacksmith, which brought the house down. “My mother says I have to leave stage and then come back for the encore. I never had the confidence to do that,” he said as he finished up with ‘As I Roved Out’, aptly followed by the final song of the night from his all-time hero, Woodie Guthrie, ‘Never Tire Of The Road’.

Just like that Viking sword unearthed this summer, the Ní Dhomhnaills, Irvine, Cork Folk Festival organisers William Hammond and Jim Walsh, and a myriad of volunteers, proved once again what national treasures they are. And when it come to Irvine, you know what they say… the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.

Friday, September 29, 2017 - Eoin Edwards

From <http://www.corkfolkfestival.com/eoin-edwards-irish-examiner-review-of-andy-irvine-last-night/>

The Australian: Album Review – Ushers Island

FOLK
Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island [Vertical/Planet]
4 stars
Making Waves – Luke Daniels [Wren Records]
3.5 stars

Go-to flute/whistle man Mike McGoldrick and acoustic guitarist John Doyle link new albums from opposite flanks of the Celtic spectrum. Whereas British button accordionist, composer and producer Luke Daniels takes an experimental approach with Making Waves, the self-titled debut release from Usher’s Island — veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer Andy Irvine’s latest Irish supergroup — is fairly conventional. While Daniels follows the footprints of the Canadian-Scottish sound sculpting visionary Martyn Bennett, who married jigs, reels and airs with archival sound bites and electronic elements, Usher’s Island follows the pathway paved by previous Irvine projects such as Planxty and Patrick Street.

Recorded in a rural cottage, Usher’s Island is as well delivered as Irish traditional folk music can be, even if it’s a tad lacking in invention. Not that Doyle’s recasting of Irish pub staple The Wild Rover isn’t infinitely more mellifluous and sophisticated than the versions rendered with drunken gusto on St Patrick’s Day. Two excellent Doyle originals draw on fascinating historical narratives. Heart in Hand centres on a Galway man captured in the late 1600s by Algerian pirates; Cairndaisy concerns an Irish immigrant fighting for the US during 1898 Spanish-American War. Irvine also dips into the military archives for Felix the Soldier, a song from the mid-18th-century French-Indian War. The relatively insipid As Good as It Gets alludes to Irvine’s unfulfilled romantic aspirations during the 1960s. Bean Phaidin benefits from Donal Lunny’s bottom register singing and the appending of slip jigs. A converted Munster pipes tune (The Half Century Set), in which Paddy Glackin’s fiddle and McGoldrick’s flute combine symbiotically, sets the bar high for the medleys that follow.

Daniels’s modus operandi, which involved processing, layering and looping hundreds of audio samples before getting his guest players to independently record their acoustic parts live, means Making Waves lacks the intimacy and fluency of Usher’s Island. The first half, in particular, features a cornucopia of strange sounds that compete with acoustic instruments for ascendancy.

In The Larks and The Jolly Tinker, the overall effect is discombobulating, with Daniels’s traditionally inspired melodies taking too long to emerge. In Retro Reel, button accordion struggles to cope with extraneous clatter, bleeps and burps. When the producer adopts a more judicious approach, as on McCrone Jigs and Wester Kittochside, Daniels’s accordion — as well as his vintage Polyphon music box — and Aidan O’Rourke’s dancing fiddle sparkle in harness with Doyle’s guitar and bouzouki.

Tony Hillier

source: theaustralian.com.au